"Simple And Faithless As A Smile"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The poem represents various moods aroused in the poet by the Dido myth but expressing his own deep longings and frustrations. Tension between romantic cravings and a cynical nature is apparent. The epigraph of the poem, Aeneas' words to Venus (Aeneid I. 327), "O Maiden how may I name thee?" reflects the vague, uncertain, restless emotions of the poet. He sees in his mental image of Dido symbols of the romance of beauty and pain related with her story. "Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair–/ Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise," he petitions this image of his imagination. In contrast to the romantic vision of Dido's experience is the picture of Aeneas' cold, insensitive farewell. He departs "as the soul leaves the body torn and bruised." Though the poet would preserve the romance in Dido's gestures as he is able to visualize them, he finds himself unavoidably disillusioned by the commonplace of human relationships. Painfully haunted by his sympathies for the tragic figure of Dido, yet putting himself in Aeneas' place, he presents the way he would leave the lovesick maiden:

I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.